Great British Menu 2022: Wales heat recap

by Howard Middleton 18 February 2022

Howard Middleton fills us in on what went on during the Welsh heat of Great British Menu 2022.

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Howard is a food writer and presenter from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series four of The Great British Bake Off, going on to win their affection with his quirky style and love of unusual ingredients.

Howard is a food writer and presenter from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series four of The Great British Bake Off, going on to win their affection with his quirky style and love of unusual ingredients. He now demonstrates his creative approach to gluten-free baking at numerous food festivals and shows and by teaching baking classes around the country, including at corporate events, commercial promotions and private parties. Howard continues to entertain audiences as a public speaker, compere and broadcaster.

When it comes to both TV and food, you can’t beat a classic pairing – Gavin and Stacey, Del Boy and Rodney, steak and chips, fish fingers and… custard. Yes, well… though this week’s chefs achieved some success with dishes derived from the first three of these, that last one proved less palatable.

First to try to recreate the regenerative sustenance of the eleventh Doctor was Mark Threadgill, head chef at Portmeirion hotel in North Wales. Veteran judge Angela Hartnett exterminated him soon after. Cardiff-born Larkin Cen, owner of the Woky Ko restaurants in Bristol stayed on course to deliver ‘Fish Fingers and Custard’ as his dessert but, despite scoring a ten for his main, soon discovered his time was up too.

So, it’s left to two returners to the competition to cook for the judging chamber. Nathan Davies from SY23 in Aberystwyth is back for a second year, along with his trusty multi-level barbecue and Tom Phillips from the two Michelin-starred Restaurant Story in London.

The judges are immediately divided over their preferred canapé. Ed happily wolfs down Nathan’s pine-smoked lobster and caviar (with a mackerel alternative for Tom Kerridge, who has a shellfish allergy). Nisha says the flavour balance is ‘so accomplished’. Guest judge and actor Steffan Rhodri and Tom favour the yeasted pastry beef tartare tartlet. ‘An absolutely outstanding bit of cookery that,’ he says.

Inspired by ‘His Dark Materials’, Tom’s compass-styled starter consists of deep-fried veal sweetbreads with a vermouth glaze, anchovy and caper puree, crispy potatoes, buttered turnip and a burnt lemon blanquette sauce. Judge Tom says it’s ‘one of the most perfectly cooked and beautiful pieces of sweetbread I’ve ever had’. However, the others agree there’s little discernible flavour in the rest of the dish and Nisha’s nonplussed with her ‘tired’ potato.

Hoping to reignite the judges with a little magic, Nathan conjures up ‘Merlin’s Magic Potion’ next. Steffan politely corrects Nisha’s pronunciation of Welsh ‘cawl’ as they wait to tuck into a humble dish of braised lamb neck. ‘I’m really hoping for some spectacle,’ she says and she’s not disappointed. With big beakers of beer broth and tiny bottles of chive oil the presentation is enchanting, as are the beer-braised and blackened onions garnished with wild garlic and allium flowers. They’re served with a spoonful of miso puree and fermented ancient grains. ‘This is the sort of punchy flavour I wanted from the last dish,’ says Ed, and Tom concludes ‘it’s a great starter’.

Onto the fish course and it’s the week’s only surviving incarnation of ‘Fish Fingers and Custard’ – Tom’s butter-poached turbot crusted in panko crumbs, yeast flakes and milk powder, served with a vin jaune and vanilla-flavoured beurre blanc. In the week it had an accompanying salad and a Sonic Screwdriver cocktail, neither of which make it to the judging chamber. Perhaps they’d have fared better. ‘I’m sure it’s really well made… it’s a lovely bit of fish,’ says Ed, ‘but I actively don’t really like the taste of it’. ‘It’s not the turbot’s fault,’ Nisha asserts, and Tom decides ‘it’s Doctor Who’s fault’.

Taking the BBC documentary series ‘Coast’ as his inspiration, Nathan serves his fish course on big wooden maps of Wales with its component parts sited at their source. Bowls of crispy scallop crumb, nori powder and pickled sea purslane gather around a huge charred and caramelised scallop, bathing in a little pool of sanbaizu sauce, alongside razor clams, nori crisps and soy-glazed sea lettuce. Steffan is wowed by the combination of flavours and textures and says it’s ‘gorgeous’.

True to its ‘I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here’ theme, the judges have a couple of trials to complete before tucking into Nathan’s main course of beef rib and ox cheek, mushroom ketchup, pickled and barbecued shimeji mushrooms and truffle stars. A little worm-like clew of potato straws is probably too meagre to be classed as chips and therein lies its criticism. Steffan decides it’s unbalanced by the lack of carbs and Ed wonders if the dish truly rewards the effort. ‘There’s a lot to do to get to it,’ he says, disappointedly.

A classic scene from ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’ inspires Tom’s pigeon dish – another top-scoring dish in the week. Stuffed with chicken mousse, it’s served with celeriac cooked in goat’s milk, a mess tin of fermented barley and mushroom fricassee and a whisky and peppercorn sauce. ‘All the things you need… and plenty of it,’ beams Steffan.

Tommy Cooper’s trademark headgear is back again as Tom serves his pre-dessert of frozen raspberries and crème diplomat in a crisp scarlet pastry fez. Nisha and Ed agree it’s ‘too cold’ and Ed asks, ‘where’s the tassel?’ However, the judges are soon smiling again at Nathan’s little tart of yuzu curd and caramel. Its topping of Italian meringue is scorched with a hot coal in honour of Wales’ most famous firefighter, Fireman Sam. Nisha applauds and calls it ‘outstanding’, Steffan says it’s ‘perfect’.

Nathan’s dessert is a poignant tribute to the origins of the black chair at Wales’ national Eisteddfod. Black bowls of cultured cream, honey granola, apple sorbet and wood sorrel nod respectfully to the white, red and green of the Welsh flag and the dish is appropriately shrouded in black cider jelly. Nisha says it’s ‘fantastic – so fresh’ and Tom judges it to be ‘absolutely stunning’. However, he admits to feeling a little uncomfortable with the sombre theme. Steffan smiles and says it’s part of the Welsh psyche – ‘we love a bit of drama and a bit of pathos’. Trust Ed to lighten the mood (and lower the tone) as he declares ‘the stuff under the blanket is very delicious… and I’ve said that before’. Tom almost falls off his chair laughing.

Recreating the pocket watch that finally made Del Boy and Rodney millionaires, Tom serves
hazelnut sablé tarts, holding discs of feuilletine, praline crisp, chocolate mousse, chocolate Chantilly cream and gold-dusted biscuit pearls. Jugs of chilled coffee crème anglaise are on the side. ‘I’m in absolute heaven over here,’ exclaims Ed, but Tom isn’t completely convinced. ‘It’s executed very well… but it’s all quite cold, so nothing is allowed to stand out’.

In the end, it’s Nathan who’s allowed to stand out as he goes through to the final. Despite scoring highly in other courses, it was that blessed ‘Fish Fingers and Custard’ that sank Tom’s chances. Nathan beams as he says that he got to try on the ‘I’m going through’ face. And in the week he also got to try on the ‘I got my first Michelin star’ face (as well as his restaurant’s award for Opening of the Year). It’s clear that Nathan looks to be well paired with success for some time to come.